Monday, November 29, 2010

Brian Eno: Small Craft on a Milk Sea

Brian Eno (electronics, manipulations)
Small Craft On A Milk Sea (Warp Records)

Brian Eno, electronic music innovator and influential record producer (U2, Coldplay, Talking Heads, etc), recently resurfaced with a new album of ambient soundscapes entitled Small Craft on a Milk Sea (Warp Records), created in improvised collaboration with relative newcomers Jon Hopkins and Leo Abrahams.

Eno has described his latest project as a kind of imaginary soundtrack. In fact, some of the tracks date from his work on the soundtrack for Peter Jackson's movie The Lovely Bones, which mostly resorted to recycling older Eno work. Of course, film music isn't a new concept for Eno. He has contributed music for a number of typically small, independent films. Those recordings can be heard on such albums as Apollo (1983) and Music for Films (1978).

So, what can one expect from Small Craft on a Milk Sea? Like most of Eno's ambient instrumental work, it focuses not so much on melody as it does on mood. Instead of obvious "arrangements" one gets intuitive textures. Sometimes the approach is languid and dreamy, and at other times frenetic and aggressive. If it weren't for the aggro tracks (such as "2 Kinds of Anger") you'd think you were listening to outtakes from his ambient masterpiece On Land (1982), in which sounds created by instruments blend seamlessly with environmental recordings.

The general sensation on Small Craft is one of disquieting expectation. Eno has always excelled at creating these kinds of eerie soundscapes with subliminal undercurrents, and his latest offering is fully loaded with foreboding. It isn't exactly a dark album — Eno eschews such obviousness — but the persistent sense of solitude has the potential to spook. At the very least, it's an immersive listening experience.

Included below are tracks from the album and a rather hilarious fake interview with Eno conducted by Eno in rock critic drag.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Crimson Jazz Trio

Crimson Jazz Trio (group)
King Crimson Songbook Vol. 2
Ian Wallace (drums)
Tim Landers (bass)
Jody Nardone (piano)

It came as some surprise recently when hip-hop's Kanye West sampled King Crimson's classic jazz-rock jam "21st Century Schzoid Man." It wasn't especially strange that the sound of a vocally distorted Greg Lake worked well within the context of "Power," a somewhat sinister track from Kanye's latest album, but it was unexpected that one of hip-hop's hipper-than-thou artists would even be aware of the progressive rock dinosaurs. Hip-hop and prog rock don't have much in common stylistically, and even within rock circles, Robert Fripp's cult band is considered an acquired taste — you either love Crimson or you hate them.

All of this reminded me of the Crimson Jazz Trio, a group devoted exclusively to rendering trad jazz versions of King Crimson songs. Pianist Jody Nardone, fretless bass guitarist Tim Landers and the drummer Ian Wallace (a Crimson veteran) recorded two albums before Wallace succumbed to cancer in 2007. Nardone also did some singing on CJ3's second album, The King Crimson Songbook, Vol. 2, though its fairly one note in comparison to the piano playing. In addition, Mel Collins, another Crimson vet, can be heard playing soprano and alto saxophone on the album.

CJ3 does jazz justice to Crimson of the '60s ("I Talk to the Wind"), '70s ("Starless"), '80s ("Frame by Frame") and '90s ("One Time"), bringing the melodies to life with an intimate ensemble sensibility and deeply felt improvisation. Even if you aren't a fan of the band's original recordings you're likely to respond well to CJ3.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Farewell To An Inspiration: Peter Christopherson

Throbbing Gristle
Peter Christopherson (electronics and a number of other weird things; pictured far right)
Genesis P. Orridge (voice, electronics)
Chris Carter (electronics)
Cosey Fanni Tutti (electronics, trumpet, voice)

Today as I'm sure some of you may have read, Peter Christopher, a founding member of one the most influential bands of the last 35 years, Throbbing Gristle (along with Cosey Fanni Tutti, Genesis P. Orridge and Chris Carter, passed away. The band reformed twice in the last six years; recently on short world tour last year.

Throbbing Gristle is one of my favourite bands of all time. Christopherson was also a member of two off-shoots of TG after the band's first disbandment in 1981, Coil and Psychic TV (with TG lead singer Genesis P. Orridge). You will probably be able to find a good bit of their history online today I'm sure of it. I'm actually going to keep this short because I can really find all the words.

This is definitely one of those moments where a musician's passing actually hits you hard. Especially when the group has been inside your head for a good portion of your life. I have been fortunate to have seen TG, PTV, Coil and Chris and Cosey, so I can say my life is full.

For those you who may not be familiar with Throbbing Gristle, let me say you have to be of a certain warped mind set to enjoy them. But let me also say, without them you don't get bands like Cabaret Voltaire, Front 242, Nine Inch Nails, Skinny Puppy, Test Dept. Liabach and countless others. You might also have not gotten some of the more experimental ideas that have come out of European jazz in the last decade from groups like Supersilent, Humcrush, Nils Petter Molvaer and more. So there is there is reason for both alternative and jazz fans to be saddened today.

Throbbing Gristle utilized electronics and an early 50s art form known as "cut ups" advanced by the great author William Burroughs. This method could be similar to what most kids called "mashups" but it is allot more calculated and takes some real skills, unlike "mashups". What they created was something more visceral, cerebral and spiritual than most bands could even come close to imagining.

Either way, TG represents a very important stamp on the culture of music and in my heart. This more than likely will mean the end of the band completely.I am truly devastated today.

If you've never listened to THROBBING GRISTLE before, you may end up digging them. You might want to start with the compilation Greatest Hits (Mute Records). If you have Throbbing Gristle albums in your collection, please take a spin today and remember one the musicians and bands that truly had a monumental effect on our artistic culture. I promise to do a full scale piece on TG in the coming days. For now...Farewell to our inspiration...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Underrated: Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis

Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis (sax; b. 1921 - d. 1986)
The Complete Cookbook Sessions
(Originally released on Prestige, 1958; reissued in Europe on Solar Records; 2010)

Shirley Scott (organ)
Jerome Richards (flute, sax)
George Duvivier (bass)
Arthur Edgehill (drums)

Originally issued on Prestige Records as The Cookbook Sessions Vol. I-III, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis so story goes, nicknamed himself after one of his own songs (although he was also called Jaws and sometimes the Fox) is a highly underrated tenor player who recorded some smoldering sides over a ten year span between 1955 and 1965. His style was bold and blazing. Sometimes it felt like a tuba blowing through a bullhorn that's how incendiary his playing was.

Eddie Davis has a number of stellar albums which I highly recommend from the aforementioned period but The Complete Cookbook Sessions (Solar Records) is a nice place to start for the fun, infectious rhythms and superb performances.

The Complete Cookbook Sessions, are three legendary scorchers for fans of Eddie Davis and his quintet which also feature the indomitable, Shirley Scott on organ. Recorded during the summer and winter of '58 these sessions are killer and feature some corny but perfectly performed numbers such as "The Chef," "Simmerin'," "Heat N' Serve," and "The Boilers." But they also include some wonderful standards such as "But Beautiful," and "Willow Weep For Me." The secret weapon on these dates as it was for the entire tenure of this quintet is Shirley Scott. Shirley Scott ability to go from the electrifying opener on Vol.I, "Have Horn, Will Blow" to the gentle balladry tone of "Will Weep For Me" and "Body And Soul" is phenomenal.

The interplay and the effect Scott has on Davis' playing throughout this period is similar to Coltrane and Miles or Lennon and McCartney. They really brought the best out of each in studio and on stage. You can really feel the emotion in the entire band; not matter if its on in a slow romantic blues or boisterous hard bop--this group was tight and immensely entertaining.

The Complete Cookbook Sessions also includes two additional sessions (the albums Jaws and Smokin') recorded in fall between the second and third volumes of Cookbook show how the group took a stranglehold on standards such as "Pennies From Heaven," and "I Never Be The Same." Superb stuff that complements the Cookbook sessions well and is definitely appropriate to compile together.

While for jazz fans I would recommend a different Lockjaw Davis album, Trane Whistle (Prestige; 1960), I would have to say if you are looking for a truly entertaining session that captures the electricity and magnetism of Eddie 'Lockjaw" Davis, The Complete Cookbook Sessions is a great premier. A nice way to discover one of the unheralded tenor players of the late 50s and 60s. A must hear session.

This is a much later video but it does represent Eddie Davis big style nicely I thought.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Lucky 7s: Chicago/New Orleans Big Beat

Lucky 7s (group; formed 2006)
Pluto Junkyard (Clean Feed; 2009)

Jeff Albert (trombone)
Jeb Bishop (trombone)
Josh Berman (cornet)
Jason Adasiewicz (vibes)
Quin Kirchner (drums)
Matthew Golombisky (bass)
Keefe Jackson (sax)

Lucky 7s are an incredible ensemble that has somehow merged the vibrant, gritty and ethereal aspects of both their native cities (Chicago and New Orleans) into an intoxicating yet accessible concoction that is well worth seeking out.

Developed by Jeb Bishop and Jeff Albert in 2006--featuring fellow chicago members from other bands, they then were joined by Matthew Golombisky and Quin Kirchner who migrated to Chicago, originally to perform with the others members on a few dates. This turned into a full-fledged band later that year.

Lucky 7s has a similar sound in line with other Chicago bands (Vandermark 5, Exploding Star Orchestra, Chicago Underground, etc.) but this group seem to find another way to turn what looks similar into something completely different. A well balanced and well placed focus on driving brass rhythms combined with spacey free from atmospherics sets this ensemble apart from its Chicago neighbors (of whom some members do belong actually).

The band debuted in 2006 with Farragut (Lakefront Digital), a fierce attack of complex arrangements and mood changes that made clear that Jeb Bishop and Jeff Albert were terrific song writers outside the groups they performed in regularly. While Lucky 7s is loosely led by Bishop and Albert, each member is allowed to express themselves in this septet.

Pluto Junkyard (Clean Feed) is the groups second album and advances the sound and structures even further. The album is jubilantly moved along by the perfection of Jason Adasiewicz on vibes and stellar work by Keefe Jackson on sax. Adasiewicz adventurous other world soundscapes and Jackson's muscular dexterity add real colour to the proceedings as apparent on "Culrual Baggage" and "Future Dog".

The somber yet beauty "Afterwords" is an emotional meditation on the originals of the band--developing as a result of members Albert, Golombisky and Kirchner moving to Chicago after Hurricane Katrina. This is well documented if you already follow the band it is significant in that the roots of both New Orleans and Chicago jazz live harmoniously through Lucky 7s. "Afterwords" displays this richly through the what could almost be journey walking down a New Orleans street in the aftermath. The basslines from Golombisky are haunting and easily detached you from session to fill you emotions of sorrow and the hope that follows.

"The Dang Hang" is smoldering piece as the liner notes state based around a late night bender possibly? Either way, its a fantastic divergence for the album in a more hyper-rock, free jazz mode. It's fun and show the band can really let rip when it needs too. The always reliable and creative Jeb Bishop takes up electric guitar for this piece with unbelievable results. But "The Dang Hang" has so many changing parts it makes for fascinating listening. The trombone interaction with Adasiewicz's vibes is beauty laid in the middle of the piece and resets the band for a nail-biting conclusion.

"Sunny's Bounce" is nice ode to psyched out sounds that influence Lucky 7s (mainly being Sun Ra) but also the New Orleans legends take flight here as well. It's a gentle midtmepo number creating number hip patterns that will keep your feet tapping but with an interchanging of "what was that note" mixed in. "Sunny's Bounce" is jumping, fresh, but yet interwoven with enough free thought that is not just a homage as it is a statement of intention.

Lucky 7s hopefully is a group that these members will continue to come back to in addition to their usual gigs. Pluto Junkyard definitely stands apart from its Chicago counterparts as a vehicle infusing the roots of two great jazz towns but it also show the immense talents of the entire outfit. This band could easily be making as many records as V5 or CU in the coming years. If you get a chance definitely venture out Lucky 7s..

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Jazz On Sunday: Miles Davis

Miles Davis (trumpet; b. 1926 - d. 1991)
The Columbia Years 1955-1985 (Columbia/Legacy)

So this is a short entry today. I had been thinking as we head into the holiday season and people start thinking about gifts to give others---why not think about what you want. You deserve it. Right? RIGHT!

An album I've been listening to a lot lately is Miles Davis: The Columbia Years 1955 - 1985. This four disc boxed set usually gets lost in the discussion of Miles' boxed sets and other multitudes of Miles Davis collections. The reason being, because all of the most recent boxed sets have been extremely focused on particular periods or styles of the great legend's music (e.g. Bitches Brew, John Coltrane and Miles Davis, Silent Way, etc.).

There has also been a very nicely curated The Essential Miles Davis (Legacy Recordings), a 2 disc set, that covers the most significant moments spanning his entire career with the labels OJC, Prestige, Fontana, Columbia and Warner Bros. While this is a perfect gift for any Miles newcomer or all around jazz newcomer, I think The Columbia Years still deserves a place on someone's shelves this year. If not as a gift, be stingy and get it for yourself.

The Columbia Years represents the best of Miles material and is pretty comprehensive in what was chosen for the set. You get one of the earliest tracks, "Generique" from a little known label Jazz Track (which also served as the soundtrack for French film Elevator To The Scaffold). The iconic "So What" from the best jazz album in history Kind Of Blue to "Flies Of Kilimanjaro," "Miles Runs The Voodoo Down," to "What It Is" from one of the later albums Decoy.

This definitely is a set covering an extensive amount of Miles material during his most prolific period and may be too much for some newcomers, but I think you may also be able to find this boxed set pretty cheaply now due to the aforementioned boxes being available now.

The Columbia Years boxed set is divided into five sections over four discs: 1) Blues based material. 2) Standards. 3) Miles' original material. 4) Mood or atmospherics and lastly 5) Electric Fusion.

The other significance of The Columbia Years was that this was the very first ever boxed set of Miles Davis material. It was released on vinyl, cassette (yes cassette) and CD. At this point in 1988 there were absolutely no boxed sets out for jazz artists so this was a big deal.

I, for some nostalgic reason, always gravitate to this box when I have company over or when I just want a nice long dose of Miles for a Sunday afternoon. So if you are thinking of being a greedy little pig this holiday season let me recommend Miles Davis: The Columbia Years 1955-1985 as something well worth your schilling. Enjoy...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Chris Dahlgren On The Beauty Of Bartok

Chris Dahlgren (double bass, voice; b. 1961)
Mystic Maze (Jazzwerkstatt, 2010)

Antonis Anissegos (piano)
Eric Schaeffer (drums)
Gebhard Ullmann (sax; clarinet)
Christian Weidner (sax)

Chris Dahlgren is a New York native now living in Berlin. He has developed a unique style in both playing and composition. This may be a result of his many musical partnerships with the likes of Anthony Braxton, Dave Holland, Fred Hersch and La Monte Young to name just a few. While his compositional style is more abstract, Dahlgren's playing is very contemporary in a vein of Dave Holand and Charlie Haden. This I feel allows his fellow band members to express themselves freely within the written material.

Dahlgren has been performing since the eighties (with his debut as leader appearing in the late nineties) but recently he put together a quintet with members that he has played together in various forms, now called Lexicon. Their debut, Mystic Maze (Jazzwerkstatt Records) is a brilliant slice of improvisation, classical theory and poetry.

Mystic Maze is based around the music of the great composer Bela Bartok, or better yet the critics who derided Bartok during his time for the adventurous and original spirit that he was. Dahlgren has constructed a poetic operatic experience that moves freely between melodic Silent Way-esque motifs, explorations on the meaning of music and how we and civilization relate to it.

The title track, "Mystic Maze" begins with almost Beat Generation drum and bass lines matched by Dahlgrens poetic delivery, outlines the direction of this session as journey of meaning of Bartok and his music. This is free form but with meaning and purpose.

Dahlgren utilizes the direct critiques of Bartok as lyrics in a poetic fashion throughout Mystic Maze. "Painless Dentistry No.1 - 3" while have more a jazz improvisational element due contain the underline feeling of angst that was delivered upon Bartok. This is most evident on "Painless Dentristy No.2" which Dahlgren recites a critics thoughts on how more or less Bartok has lost his way and his vision. The delivery of the lyrics and mastery of the musicians within this format is extraordinary. The work of both Ullmann, Weidner (on clarinet and sax) and Anissegos exploratory vision on piano are marvelous throughout each piece.

"The Composer Promenading The Keyboard In His Boots" is another moment in which the material shines not only due to Dahlgren's arrangements but the effortless phrasing from Anissegos, Weidner, Ullmann and Schaefer's perfect timing. "The Composer Promenading..." has a critics discussing the meandering and meaninglessness of Bartok's written material. Under the direction of Dahlgren this diatribe is turned on its head beautifully.

Mystic Maze is work that is reminiscent of an evening at St. Marks Church listening to Allen Ginsberg in the eighties. Or if some of you may remember an album by Heiner Gobbels entitled Man In The Elevator (ECM Records) which beautifully balanced jazz improvisation, operatic themes and poetic parameters. Mystic Maze is heavy but delightful stuff and worth repeated listens so you can gain every drop of knowledge from the world Dahlgren has constructed. ...And then you should go out and purchase some Bartok if you don't have some already.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ricardo Gallo: Resistencias

Ricardo Gallo (piano)
Resistencias (Ladistrito Fonica)

Jorge Sepelveda (drums)
Juan Manuel Toro (bass)
Juan David Castano (percussion)

Colombian born, Ricardo Gallo has been making waves on the American scene for a few years now. Since moving to US in the late nineties he has worked with such distinguished luminaries as Ray Anderson and Peter Evans. He has also recorded a stellar series of albums in duo, ensemble and group settings. His most exciting recordings for me have been with his formidable quartet.

Gallo has well rounded and enterprising style that sizzles with each album he produces. While mixing avant garde tendencies and Latin American influences may sound frightening to the uninitiated, you may be very surprised by the results. They are always staggering and will undoubtedly convince you.

With his third quartet release, Resistencias (Ladistrito Fonica), Gallo continues an amazing fusion of his Latin roots with contemporary jazz tradition. His long standing quartet featuring Juan Manuel Toro (bass), Juan David Castano (percussion) and Jorge Sepulveda (drums) deliver their best combination yet of Latin cultural aesthetic and post modern jazz. Beginning with "Bailemesta", a wonderful and vibrant piece that is set in the polyrhythmic Latin tradition but with superb improvised undertones. The percussion and drum work from Castano and Sepelveda on this opener is truly staggering.

Gallo's writing continues to grow and become more complex as evident on "Auroa Parcial". "Auroa Pracial" is a melodic ballad which begins with a deep solo from Manuel Toro and seamlessly moves into avant garde territory with intricate work from Gallo at the piano.

A hint of fun, adventure and might I say funk enters with "Kitchen Kuartet Kumbia" with Gallo playing melodica and Toro plucking away some rough basslines. It's as if Astor Piazzolla and Stanley Clarke were performing in your backyard (well maybe not but that was best I could think of at the moment). The percussion work from Castano and how Galo interacts on both "Kitchen Kuartet Kumbia" and "Iky" is mindblowing. This is definitely a group that has played together for quite some time and knows each other very well.

Resistencias closes with "Viejo Presagio" a beautiful midtempo number that is almost anthematic in nature while softly leading the listener down from an exhilarating ride of Latin experimentalism. Resistencias states that Ricardo Gallo is an emerging artist/composer that should not be overlooked. This is one of the best Ricardo Gallo albums to date. It's a refreshing date and definitely worth your money if you are looking or something original and different to put on the stereo. Check out Downtown Music Gallery when you're finally ready buy this.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Rediscovering Cassandra Wilson

Cassandra Wilson (vocals, multi-instrumentalist; b. 1955)
Silver Pony (Blue Note; 2010)

Marvin Sewell (guitar) Reginald Veal (bass) Herlin Riley (drums)
Jonathan Batiste (piano) Lekan Babalola (percusssion)
Ravi Coltrane (sax) Helen Gillet (cello) John Legend (guest vocals)
Luke Laird (guitar) Brandon Ross (guitar)

Cassandra Wilson is that rare jazz vocalist who can create a distinct atmosphere, aura and all around level of creativity and originality that stands high above her current contemporaries. Betty Carter, Nina Simone, Carmen McCrae are some of my favourite examples of the real jazz chanteuse who delivered their own material in addition to reimagining standards across various genres. Cassandra Wilson is definitely in this category.

For the last decade, so called "jazz singers" have carved out territory utilizing jazz/pop material with mixed results. Cassandra Wilson has been on scene for well over 30 years and continues to show that she has an unmatched manner in constructing material from various disparate forms.

She gained notoriety during he stint with the funk-jazz, M-Base Collective lead by Steve Coleman in the 80s. She finally branched out on her own in the late 80s with a series of albums mainly focused on jazz standards (on the JMT and Winter To Winter labels) but with her distinct spin. She finally broke out to the masses with her releases on Blue Note Records, most importantly New Moon Daughter (Blue Note; 1995) which won a Grammy.

Her deep vocals float lovingly and give an intense introspective feeling to her material. That delivery along with her unique arrangements is what makes every album delight to experience. That doesn't change on the new album, Silver Pony (Blue Note), an album rich in tradition of her Mississippi blues roots but with folksy jazz sensibilities. The album title (and cover art) comes from a childhood experience of not being afraid of getting on top of a pony to have her picture taken. The fearlessness continues on the direction of Silver Pony.

"Went Down To St. James Infirmary" a somewhat blues standard, Wilson turns it into a funky homage thanks to some great guitar work from Marvin Sewell. The self-penned "Beneath The Silver Moon" is another example of the introspection that Wilson can conjure in the listener. This passion-piece is a lovers delight and meant to stir the desire of the soul. The vocal interplay that Wilson has with guest saxophonist Ravi Coltrane is sublime.

"Saddle Up My Pony" sees Cassandra Wilson reaching deep into the blues vault of the great and under-rated Charles Patton. This journeyman's songs and Wilson takes you on that journey with ease and beauty that only she can do. The musicianship and quality of material throughout Silver Pony is superb and you forget that this is "categorized" as a jazz record. But under the direction of Cassandra Wilson is more world music. Exploring the heart and the soul and music relation to it. Jazz is just the base point for Wilson catapult from.

The "funky drummer" moment as I like to call it, happens midway through Silver Pony, with "Forty Days And Forty Nights" another blues tune (made famous by Muddy Waters) in which percussion, drum and guitar work led the proceedings by Lekan Babalola, Herlin Riley and Sewell respectively. This time with a rich, infectious rhythms that take this blues piece in a brave new direction. "Blackbird", an under appreciated Beatles song (if you're a fair-weathered Beatles fan) from The White Album, is fully transformed under Wilson's direction from folksy acoustic to lovingly lounge jazz burner.

Now, I haven't to admit as I did to a friend recently, I haven't kept up with most of Cassandra Wilson material of the last few years. I have heard tracks here and there but I hadn't sat down with an album until now. And I'm actually glad I did. Silver Pony is all the reason I'd got into Cassanda Wilson in the first place. The adventure. The surprise. The voice. Silver Pony is a great record and actually a nice place to start for anyone who hasn't listened to Cassandra Wilson before.

A lot people have probably seen this video but I think it serves as perfect example of Wilson beauty and originality.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Jazz Soundtracks: The Green Hornet

The Green Hornet (Extra Special Edition)
Billy May

Harkit Records

Originally a radio show, The Green Hornet made the transition to TV in the wake of the super successful Batman series. The Green Hornet only lasted one season ('66), it launched Bruce Lee's career and features the swinging sounds of big band legend Billy May.

To create the signature theme music May worked closely with trumpeter Al Hirt, adapting Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee." The relentless pace is perfect for the action-packed show. Naturally, the track is very brassy, but the sonorities have an otherworldly perhaps Oriental tonality that may come from harmonicas or muted brass.

Other action-oriented tracks include the crime jazz pounder "Horneted House," the blistering "Activate the Scanner" and "Kato," an Oriental blues swinger. More woozy brass and strange sonorities are prevalent on the lounge number "Four Hornets." Other tracks, like "Casey," "Do the Hornet" and "Black Beauty" are pleasant enough, but are conventional in comparison to the aforementioned highlights.

The Green Hornet soundtrack has appeared on CD courtesy of RFO in the U.S. and Max and JBXL in Japan. Harkit's first version, released a few years ago, contained much of the core material — 11 tracks with little thematic repetition.

The "extra special edition" reviewed here adds several bonus tracks, including Al Hirt's hit single of the theme and versions of "Flight of the Bumble Bee," which was used for the original radio show. In addition, there is an excerpt from a '40s radio show and a complete specially adapted '60s radio show episode. The bonus tracks round out the original program nicely, adding conceptual depth and listening pleasure.

Harkit has done a good job with the liner notes, explaining the show's place in history and May's reputation as one of Frank Sinatra's main men. Still, a bit more info about the recording sessions might have explained some of the stranger sounds here. Speaking of sound, it's a little rough, as if taken from LP. Granted, there are no annoying surface defects, so presumably an effort was made to clean it up as much as possible.

Oh, and the upcoming movie looks really cheesy.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

King Capisce: A New UK Avant Garde

King Capisce (group; formed 2008)
King Capisce (KC Records)

Tim Feben (guitar)
Richard Harrison (sax)
Alex Baker (sax)
Roshan Lal (bass)
Tom Ashfield (drums)

The self titled debut from this Sheffield quintet King Capisce a refreshing reminder that the UK jazz scene is has many influences and allot to offer. Unsigned King Capisce have been on the UK touring circuit for only short time but have built up a decent following and their debut shows great strength in depth and vision.

This is a harder edge mixture of prog, psychedelia and free jazz. While current favourites, Polar Bear, Acoustic Ladyland and Troyka may come to mind, King Capisce are definitely making a case and carving out a space that might well be all their own in the future.

The album begins with the frightening beauty of "Cheer Up Cyclops" which start with Roshan Lal's funky bass line and then blast head first into an exchange of potent ideas both gentle and frenetic. "Cheer Up Cyclops" almost sums up the album in seven minutes (but wait there's more)--a bright piece of psychedelia and free jazz. It got me thinking, what if Ornette Coleman joined King Crimson on stage for one night? (Actually that could still happen.)

The battle of duelling saxophones and the blistering guitar work makes for some heavy listening at times but I think everyone with a sense of rock and jazz will enjoy King Capisce for different reasons. That battle continues on "The Sharp Edge", a mountain of a piece that delivers some complex melodies within changing environment. "The Sharp Edge' moves quickly from gently structure chords to funk patterns to improvised chaos.

"Between Teeth" gives this session a blues-rock injection with some wonderfully shifting work by Tim Feben on guitar. "Between Teeth" builds to high climax as the rest of the quintet join in a Philip Glass-esque arpeggio. "Boundless" closes things out with a mid-tempo delivery but just the right amount delicate aggression to remind the listener why this debut is so impressive.

A solid premiere for the Sheffield quintet that sparkles with ideas and strong musicianship. King Capisce is a band worth watching over the next couple of years. This is definitely the shape of jazz to come and let's hope they become talked about in the circles as the aforementioned UK outfits sooner rather later. Highly Recommended.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Ken Thomson: It Would Be Easier If

Ken Thomson (bass clarinet, alto sax)
It Would Be Easier If (Intuition Records)
Russ Johnson (trumpet)
Nir Felder (guitar)
Adam Armstrong (bass)
Fred Kennedy (drums)

It Would Be Easier If is a clear, inventive yet diverse record from a mainstay on the New York scene, Ken Thomson. A co-founder of the avant garde jazz/rock band Gutbucket and collaborator with the versatile Bang On A Can, Thomson present an incredible debut as leader with elements of classical, free jazz and rock even paced throughout It Would Be Easier If.

This is an album that I think a lot of people will find different parts to like. There are moments of Gutbucket, Praxis, John Zorn's Painkiller that make for electrifying listening. But then just as firecracker of this music ignites you get a taste of Thomson's excellent jazz and chamber music arrangements.

Opening with the bewitchingly intricate "Kleine Helmet", with some outstanding delivery from Russ Johnson on trumpet and Thomson on bass clarinet. "Kleine Helmet" is beautiful example of the album as a whole. It is gentle throughout but encases some extraordinary arrangements that swing both in the direction of small group classical settings and free floating jazz conceptional thought.

"Goddamn You Ice Cream Truck" cuts against the grain of the It Would Be Easier If with Thomson bringing his Gutbucket inspirations into the proceedings. "Goddamn You Ice Cream Truck" is a fun and boisterous experience with Nir Felder's fiery, improvised chord changes augmented by the bombastic interplay between the rest of the members of the quintet--sonic bliss indeed.

With "Goddamn..." being the propulsive center point, the rest of the session is a more introspective and balance affair. "No, No, No" is the albums warmest moment. Led by some beautiful drumless electronic work from Fred Kennedy and fuzzy atmospheric guitar on the part of Felder this piece transforms into a wonderful meditative statement.

"No, No, No" then opens up to "Wanderangst" which finds its rhythm midway through and the sizzling syncopation that the quintet performs especially Thomson on clarinet is absolutely phenomenal. The compositional elements on "Wanderangst" are extremely refreshing.

The album closes with the title track, a slow progression but bold in nature. It again features some stellar interplay between Johnson and Thomson.

It Would Be Easier If is fantastic combination of Ken Thomson well structured chamber arrangements and superiour improvisation on the part of each member of the ensemble. It's great to see Thomson finally put all his thoughts and influences into one place and no better way than on his debut. It Would Be Easier If is an impressive work for an artist and composer that I hope will record more as leader and someone you should most certainly check out. I really love this record.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Eivind Aarset: The Sonic Sound

Eivind Aarset (guitar; b. 1961)
(Photo: nomo/michael hoefner)

With a combination of Brian Eno's ambient creations and Miles Davis' fusion era explorations, guitarist, Eivind Aarset has created a futurist realm for the jazz guitarist. Hailing from Norway, Eivind Aarset had performed with numerous Norwegian musicians--really coming to prominence through his work with Nils Petter Molvaer, Sidsel Endrensen and Bugge Wesseltoft to name a few. His recordings are a modern fusion of jazz and electronics. Melodic in nature but with enough emotionally craftiness that his instrumental voice standouts amongst the layers of electronics.
Eivind Aarset's albums are awash of electronics all the while emitting subtle harmonics and ethereal grooves that sometimes can be reminiscent of fellow guitar experimentalists, Michael Brook and David Torn. Aarset has four albums to date. Each one building on the rugged guitar movements and sparse electronic density with enchanting effects.

My favourite album would be his third album, Connected (Jazzland Records). Connected fulfills the promise of his debut, Electronique Noire and its successor, Light Extracts with swathes of acoustic, electronic and forward thinking results. Connected features excellent vocal contributions from Dhafer Youssef and wonderful interplay with saxophonist, Hans Ulrik as well as the rest the band.
This is a session that not only builds a soundscape conjuring up other worldly images but as illustrates Aarset's ability to create pathway and vision for jazz guitarists to follow. Songs like "Silk Worm", " Electromagnetic In E," and "Transmission" standout as signpost of musician who is thinking on a completely different level than his contemporaries.

Eivind Aarset's most recent release Live Extracts is an altogether different experience. It's brings the creativity of the studio into raw, emotional and improvised live setting.

Live Extracts follows Aarset's touring band Sonic Codex Orchestra in support of his fourth album Sonic Codex. This octet is really amazing and the sound world they create invokes the aforementioned guitarists but also Aarset's work shift between electronic adventure and jazz improvisation. Covering mainly pieces from Sonic Codex and Connected, Live Extracts is well focused live album with some bright moments like "Electromagnetic"--a piece that expands around Aarset's distorted and monstrous chords and pounding rhythms from Audun Erlien (bass), Wetle Holte and Erland Daahlen (both on drums).

"Drobak Saray" a beautiful track from Sonic Codex that here is even more raw, with waves expression from Aarset and heavy mood displacement from Erlien. The track then builds into a cavalcade of grand rock movement.

"Murky Seven" is the shortest track on the album but delivers a nice experimental vibe with Aarset's mild picking and some lovely percussion work from Dahlen. This folds directly into an assault on sound that is "Sign Of Seven" with features a magnificent performance from Hakon Kornstad (sax). This is also probably the closest moment Aarset comes to Live Evil/Dark Magus period of Miles Davis as the piece builds layer upon layer of sound to complete all-stop.

Live Extracts closes appropriately with "Bla Meis", a slow moving ballad with what feel to me like gentle Americana undertones. "Bla Meis" quietly slides and fades away leaving the listener with a pleasant emotional live experience.

Aarset's playing is always bold but never overpowering or used to make some over-produced statement. I think Connected and Live Extracts are the prefect companions and introductory pieces for anyone looking at getting into Eivind Aarset--one of the best jazz guitarist coming out of Norway at the moment.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Exploding Star Orchestra: Stars Have Shapes

Exploding Star Orchestra
Stars Have Shapes (Delmark; 2010)
Rob Mazurek (cornet, electronics) Matt Bauder (clarinet, sax)
Jeb Bishop (trombone) Jason Stein (bass clarinet)
Nicole Mitchell (flute, voice) Jason Adasiewicz (vibes)
Greg Ward (sax) Matthew Lux (bass)
Josh Abrams (bass) John Herndon (drums)
Mike Reed (drums) Damon Locks (word rocker)

Exploding Star Orchestra is a rotating ensemble led by cornetist Rob Mazurek, a free jazz fixture on the Chicago scene. ESO is one of many groups Mazurek heads up including The Chicago Underground Trio/Quartet, The Chicago Underground Orchestra, Isotope 217, Tigersmilk and the Rob Mazurek Quintet. Stars Have Shapes is an album I couldn't put back on the shelf. Each day for two weeks I would stop and think about one of the songs and remember a passage that I had to hear again. I kept thinking to myself, "wait a minute, there's something else going on here."

Stars Have Shapes builds on the previous efforts of ESO "We Are All From Somewhere" and two self titled albums featuring the late Bill Dixon. Each of these albums circles around the slow ascension of found sounds. In the case of Stars Have Shapes it is rain from the the Amazon, various field recordings and sound manipulation of basic woodwind instruments. The comparisons to the latter material of Coltrane (especially his epic "Ascension"), Sun Ra and even the Detroit collective led Phil Ranelin, The Tribe, are right in discussing. But these legends are only the foundation on the which Stars And Shapes might use to catapult into the stratosphere.

Opening with the episodic journey "Ascension Ghost Impression #2, for me reminiscent of the larger ensemble pieces of Alice and John Coltrane, Mazurek states the case that outing is clearly spiritual trip inward for the listener. Mazurek took the listener on a similar path with "Cosmic Tomes For Sleep Walking Lovers" from the We Ar All From Somewhere. It's a piece that builds and moves through hypnotic and caustic with relative ease. As I mentioned the piece is lengthy (20 minutes) but you quickly get swallowed by wonderful world Mazurek and the musicians have built that you never notice the songs length until you move into the more groove laden beat of "ChromoRocker."

"ChromoRocker" is the shortest piece on Stars Have Shapes but is has beat led by Jason Adasieicz (vibes) and Josh Abrams (bass), two other Chicago stalwarts, that's fast paced, exploratory and shifting in melody.

"Three Blocks Of Light" is the second long player on this never ending journey. It's patterns are a more electronic and densely focused with the ensemble setting a more ethereal tone throughout. There are muted trumpets, tone pitches, insect noises and other manipulated reconstructions are making for some highly inventive listening.

The final piece "Impression #1" is slightly more structure with delicate pulsating touches from Adasiewicz and some rich playing from the horn section. It's a slow moving ballad. Almost gospel like in nature but with a very cerebral tone.

Mazurek's writing and direction on throughout this piece and the entire recording is teeming with originality and diversity. Mazurek dedicates the Stars Have Shapes to Bill Dixon and Fred Anderson, two of the most important avant garde icons to the Chicago scene. Rob Mazurek has turned Exploding Star Orchestrea into one of the most innovative and dynamic avant garde collectives of the new century. And I think both Anderson and Dixon would be extremely proud.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Supersilent (group; formed 1997)
10 (Rune Gramoffon; 2010)
Arve Henriksen (trumpet, electronics, drums)
Helge Sten (guitars, electronics)
Ståle Storløkken (keyboards)

With the departure of Jarle Vespestad on drums many fans didn't know what to expect from the always excellent Norweigan powerhouse, Supersilent. What we get is Supersilent 10--the most realized, acoustic and personal Supersilent album to date. I have always recommend Supersilent 6 as the first album to go towards but I think I may have change that thought.

10 has the architecture of a good Throbbing Gristle date mixed with best motifs from Harold Budd and Brian Eno. The performances by Stolokken, Sten and Henriksen are absolutely brilliant. As with each Supersilent album the tracks don't have names on numbers.

Openning on the usual atmospheric note and then flowing into more dense pastures "10.2" and "10.3" both shine brightly with the electronic effects from Sten but also the acoustic work of Storlokken on piano and Heriksen's muted spaced outed trumpet are amazing. "10.5" sounds like something that could easily fit on Throbbing Gristle's D.O.A.: Third And Final Report album. Dense, chilling stuff.

With the exploratory journey of "10.6" which feels like some of the moments of Harold Budd or Michael Brook and Jon Hassell. It's is poignant track that shows how this group has grown over the last 13 years. 10 is not a silent ambient trip or a roller coaster into white noise. It is much more than that. Storlokken is pushed into the front more on this album than ever before. His performance on gentle patterns on "10.7" are a loving lullaby that highlighted even more by Henriksen's delightful lyricism that flies along side Sorlokken on grand piano.

On "10.8" Henrikensen shows a similar understanding on liner patterns and ethereal beauty that could rival Jon Hassell. "10.9" is a fiercely atmospheric heavy piece driven by electronics which feels like Budd meeting T.G. in a cafe for a lively discussion of sound.

"10.12" closes the session in the exact manner it began--an adventurous, heavy journey into soundscapes that draws you in and doesn't really let go. It's a haunting piece driven by Storlokken's pounding keys and some electronic manipulation by Sten and Henriksen that is truly beauty in its conception.

Having had the pleasure and honour of seeing them live I can honestly say 10 is for me, without a doubt, the first time Supersilent have really stretched out in their vision and scope. These are heavy yet beauty stories told in just under an hour. Why this group hasn't seen wider recognition across the globe is bewildering me. This is the stuff landmark records are made of.

(Video footage: Supersilent 7 (Live DVD))